Since the middle of the 20th century, marriage and family have changed dramatically and surprisingly. The “golden age of marriage” and “sexual revolution” of the 1950s and 1960s promised that men and women should be happier in their love marriages. Being able to marry their romantic lovers and live with the partners they love should make them happy.
All these cultural ideals should make them presumably happy together for life: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish always.”
Nonetheless, in the late 20th century, unpredictable shifts in marital and family relationships flipped the cultural script on those ideals of love and commitment. Marriage and family as love unions have lost their value in the minds of many men and women in Western modernized societies, while singlehood has grown in value.
Nowadays, approximately half of all Americans are single—more than ever before. In addition, nearly three-quarters are not in a committed relationship. About half of those singles are not interested in dating or looking for a relationship. Many feel happy to continue living that way (Pew Research Center, 2019).
So, is it okay to be single?
The Romantic Myth of Being Happy Together
For a very long time, cultural ideologies of love have inspired men and women to love, marry, and be happy together with their beloveds. Surprisingly, in the following decades since it became possible in the “golden age of marriage,” marriage started to lose its allure.
The increasing number of single people appears to be the modern trend in the United States, Canada, and worldwide. Numerous studies conducted over the years have shown that, on average, married people are happier and healthier than single people.
However, it turned out that many men and women can also be happy being single. Being single is not necessarily a bad thing. Single women and men can be no less happy than married ones.
So, it is possible that our modern cultural beliefs are still rooted in the tenets of the old myth that only marriage can make people happy. Maybe this belief is just an old stereotype that is not really valid anymore. Perhaps we need to overcome the societal stigma and stereotype of singles being lonely and unhappy. Maybe we should better understand that being happily single is not less valuable than being in a happy relationship.
“What makes some people happy with singlehood while others are not?”
Geoff MacDonald, a Professor at the University of Toronto in Canada, has investigated this issue. As an expert in this field, he recently talked about this topic with Kim Mills, who interviewed him on behalf of the American Psychological Association at the recent podcast of “Speaking of Psychology: Living a happy single life,” Episode 215
Is It True that Single People Are Less Happy than People in Relationships?
Multiple publications have shown that on average, the people who are in a romantic relationship feel happier; they are more satisfied in life than the people who are single (see, for review, Karandashev, 2019, 2021, 2022).
Men and women are both single before and after they enter into a relationship. They can be in different contexts and be of different personality.
However, average data does not tell the whole story. We should acknowledge that the differences revealed in many studies are relatively small. Besides, the variability within each of these two groups of individuals is high (Karandashev, 2019, 2022).
All these statistics lead us to assume that not every single person is unhappy, and not every person in a relationship is happy in their life. So, the question remains: what types of single people are happier than other types of single people who are less happy?
Overall, for social scientists and relationship researchers, it is interesting to learn who those single people are and what makes them happy. And Professor Geoff MacDonald is on the front line of this research.